Read Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery Online

Authors: Andrew Pepper

Tags: #Crime & mystery

Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery (8 page)

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
10.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Zephaniah eyed Pyke carefully from the armchair. ‘So what do you recommend we do, Detective-inspector?’

‘That depends on whether you’ve decided to pay the ransom or not.’

‘Of course we’ve decided to pay,’ Jonah said impatiently.

Zephaniah’s tone was more conciliatory. ‘The important thing is to get the boy back here where he belongs. Maybe, sir, you could be persuaded to take the hundred pounds out to the old quarry?’

Momentarily distracted by the sound of footsteps in the room directly above them, Pyke nodded without realising what he had agreed to.

‘I’m still going to need to talk to your driver … and your wife.’

‘I’ll have someone fetch the driver. You might also want to find and question the boy’s former nursemaid. Maggie Atkins. She left this household under a cloud.’

‘What kind of a cloud?’

‘We caught her stealing. In the end, we chose not to involve the police; we didn’t want to make a scene. She always denied it, and was bitter about her dismissal.’

‘Bitter enough to take matters into her own hands?’

‘I just thought I’d mention it, Detective-inspector. I’ll have one of the servants look out her address.’

Pyke glanced at Zephaniah and then let his gaze return to Jonah Hancock. ‘It would be more helpful if you could summon your wife.’

Their eyes locked. Jonah licked his lips. ‘I’m surprised she hasn’t come down from her room to greet you.’

‘Perhaps you would be so kind as to bring her down?’

The younger Hancock pondered this request then left the room. Pyke and Zephaniah Hancock stared uneasily at one another.

‘Tell me, sir,’ the older man said. ‘Did you come up here directly from the railway station or did you perhaps call in on the station-house on your way?’

‘The latter. I had a very brief chat with Superintendent Jones and Sir Clancy Smyth.’

The old man assimilated this news without reacting. ‘In which
case, I don’t imagine you’ve formed a favourable impression of my family.’ When Pyke didn’t respond immediately, he smiled. ‘Be that as it may, Jonah loves his son and there is nothing he – nothing
– won’t do to ensure his safe return.’

None of the stories Pyke had heard about Zephaniah had portrayed him as a devoted family man. ‘Do you have any other children or grandchildren?’

‘I do have another son, but alas I see him very infrequently. He takes care of my family’s ancestral home in Hampshire.’

‘And is William your only grandchild?’

Zephaniah gave him a puzzled stare. ‘My other son, Richard, has two children.’ Then he seemed to relax and added, ‘Look, I won’t pretend I’m sentimentally attached to William, or children in general, but it doesn’t mean I’m not concerned for his well-being. And William is the firstborn of the firstborn. Is it so wrong to want to see one’s family name survive long after one’s death?’

Before Pyke could answer, there were footsteps in the hallway. Jonah entered the room, closely followed by Cathy.

Seeing her for the first time in five years was both exciting and a disappointment. It was undoubtedly true that she had blossomed into a beautiful woman; her slender figure, pronounced cheekbones, ash-blonde hair and slim, pretty face were all reminders of the adolescent Pyke had once known. Nonetheless he saw straight away that the naivety and innocence he’d once associated with her had been replaced by an unfamiliar reserve. Before him was a woman whose expression was like the hard surface of a mirror: she smiled politely and held out her hand for him to shake. Drawn into her ambit, he smelled the sourness of claret on her breath as he tried in vain to find even the smallest flicker of warmth in her eyes. As he took her outstretched hand, she swayed towards him, whispering, ‘You shouldn’t have come.’

While Pyke tried to work out what she had meant, Cathy went over to join her husband. She was wearing a carefully brocaded white lace dress with puffed sleeves and a crinoline skirt. He noticed that Zephaniah had been watching their encounter.

‘My wife will answer any questions you have tomorrow, Detective-inspector.’ Jonah reached out and gently squeezed her hand. ‘She is
feeling a little tired, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to escort her up to her bed.’

They didn’t want, and didn’t wait for, Pyke’s sanction. He expected Cathy to look up at him on her way out but she swept by without acknowledgement.

‘Don’t take it personally, Detective-inspector,’ Zephaniah said, grinning, after they had left the room. ‘I do hope you’ll stay here with us, sir,’ he added, full of bonhomie. ‘I’m afraid the accommodation in town is universally dreadful. It would be nice to have a man’s company for a change.’

Pyke didn’t miss this barbed reference to Jonah Hancock but decided to let it pass.

‘It might surprise you to know that Catherine has always talked about you in very admiring terms.’

‘I can’t think why,’ Pyke said. ‘I hardly knew her when she was living in London. She was just the daughter of a friend of my uncle.’

‘Indeed, sir. But who knows what passes for thought inside a woman’s head. Perhaps she saw you as her knight in shining armour.’

The old man smiled. Pyke took the opportunity to change the subject. ‘I believe a sum of a thousand pounds was mentioned if I ensure your grandson’s safe return?’

‘We men are always far happier to discuss money than women, aren’t we?’ Zephaniah tried to sit up straighter. ‘Still, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to you, I suspect, if I were to proffer the opinion that my daughter-in-law has always carried a torch for you, sir.’ He held up his hand to stop Pyke from interrupting. ‘Be that as it may, when your name was mentioned in the context of our difficulties, I took the liberty of asking about you. I found out that you’ve received two prison sentences, one for the non-payment of debts and one for murder.’

‘I received a full pardon for the latter.’

‘You miss my meaning, sir. I am always impressed when a man has risen above adversity. The fact that you are an inspector at Scotland Yard’s Detective Branch suggests an impressive guile and determination, a survivor’s instinct. I hope you won’t think me
excessively melodramatic if I were to suggest that the future of the house of Hancock lies in your capable hands.’

Pyke was tired from the journey but he knew he couldn’t let down his guard. Zephaniah had gone out of his way to seem welcoming but Sir Clancy Smyth’s warning was still ringing in his ears. Eventually he managed a thin smile. ‘We’ll get your grandson back, don’t worry.’

‘I don’t doubt it, Detective-inspector,’ Zephaniah said. ‘I have every faith in your abilities.’

Tipperary Town, Co. Tipperary

nox had set off for Tipperary Town at first light, forgoing his breakfast because he hadn’t wanted to wake the baby. He had walked the first couple of miles but just before the town of Golden, a dray had pulled over and the driver had offered him a place next to him. A mile or so beyond Golden they had passed a dead body lying at the side of the track. They hadn’t stopped. The driver, a shoemaker from Cashel, had looked at Knox but neither of them had spoken. What was there to say? Eventually the body would be claimed by nature or the authorities. Knox had known it was wrong to leave the body lying there but it was someone else’s responsibility. The driver had dropped him in the centre of the town and Knox had spent the next hour or two trudging around the various lodging houses, hoping that someone might recognise the man in his copperplate. He had described the man as an outsider, possibly from England, but by lunchtime, when he had had no success and was famished, he wondered whether his initial assumption – that the dead man had been a well-to-do traveller – was correct. No one in Cashel had remembered him and there was just one place left in Dundrum to check. After that, he would have to extend his search farther afield. Clonmel, perhaps even Thurles.

The wind was blowing from the north, and in spite of his great-coat, Knox could feel the chill in his bones. The ground was frozen and the cold air stung his cheeks. Dispirited and exhausted, and with no food in his stomach, Knox thought about the inn in Dundrum and decided to call in on his family, perhaps even scrounge a little food from his mother. He set off at a brisk pace, enlivened by the prospect of a meal, but started to flag after a mile or two. The wind
picked up and fat drops of rain slapped against his face. Eventually a horse and cart drew up next to him and Knox hopped up next to the driver. The man was making a delivery to the old hall. After a few initial pleasantries, they didn’t exchange another word.

After about an hour the delivery man dropped him by the gates to Dundrum House but when he asked for his mother in the kitchens he was told that she was at home. No other explanation was offered and Knox started to worry that one of his family might be ill. Peter perhaps. Or maybe even his mother. Unlike most of the servants, his mother had been permitted to live away from the main house, perhaps because of the length of time she had served Cornwallis. The family cabin lay a few hundred yards from the gates on the edge of a parcel of land known as Fishpond Field. None of his memories there was a happy one, Knox realised as he made his way up the familiar track. Even the trees seemed gloomy and oppressive. After rounding the last bend, he saw an unfamiliar figure stooped over a wooden tub.

‘I’m looking for Sarah and John Knox.’

The woman rose and stretched her back. She regarded him indifferently, taking in his uniform, then wiped her hands on her apron. ‘They moved.’

Knox dug his hands into his pockets and glanced at the cabin. He was really worried now. His mother hadn’t mentioned moving on his last visit. ‘Where to?’

‘Quarry Field. The new houses.’

Knox knew the cottages she had mentioned: they were airy, spacious and even had an outdoor privy.

It was a fifteen-minute walk, and when he entered the open door, Knox found his mother standing over the range. A pot of water was boiling and a line of clothes was hanging diagonally across the room. Peter, his youngest brother, was snoozing on a chair. As soon as she saw him, Sarah Knox rushed to greet her son, throwing her arms around him and kissing his cheek. Breathlessly, she explained that Cornwallis’s agent had offered them this cottage for the same rent they’d been paying on their old place.

‘I told you he wasn’t such a bad man.’ Her expression was both kind and defiant. ‘He even gave me a day’s holiday to move in.’

Peter had stirred from his slumber and as soon as he saw Knox he
leapt up to greet him. This only augmented Knox’s guilt, the fact that he hadn’t visited his brother for such a long time. Peter was a frail boy with a thin face and droopy eyes that never quite focused on the person he was looking at. Knox ruffled his hair and let the boy hug him. He didn’t look his fifteen years and he certainly didn’t act them. Not for the first time, Knox wondered what would happen to his brother if and when their mother passed away, for he was quite sure it was her love – unconditional as it was – that had kept the lad going.

Peter knew how to talk but he rarely, if ever, spoke. Instead he would coo and murmur and gargle and their mother would interpret for him. This time he was silent and, having let go of Knox’s midriff, he retreated back to his chair next to the fire. Knox thought about his other brother, Matthew, big as an ox, a labourer on the estate like their father, and wondered how they had all turned out so different. He tried to push from his mind thoughts about his brothers and the guilt he hadn’t made more of an effort to get to know them. He had his own family to worry about now.

‘So did his Lordship give you any reason for this unexpected turn of events?’ he asked.

‘He told me that it was a reward for loyalty.’ His mother looked approvingly around the room. ‘Your father did a little jig when he saw the bed next door. He’s never even slept on a mattress before.’

Knox hadn’t seen his father in more than three months and he wondered whether his mother knew that he tried to time his visits to Dundrum to avoid having to converse with the man. He knew it was cowardly, simply avoiding his father, but he hadn’t been able to put memories of his youth out of his head, times when his father would return home drunk and full of rage and take it out on him with a leather strap. It had always been a surprise to him that the man treated Peter and Matthew with affection and Knox had never been able to reconcile this difference; the coldness of the man towards him with the warmth of his dealings with his younger children. It had bothered Knox for a long time – bothered him more than he had ever admitted to anyone, even his wife – but now too much water had passed under that particular bridge.

‘Is that all Cornwallis said?’

His mother went over to join Peter by the fire. She patted the lad’s head and smiled as his neck and back arched towards her, like a cat
wanting to be stroked. Finally she turned back towards Knox. ‘If truth be told, I got the feeling that it had something to do with you.’

‘Why me?’

‘The agent said something about his Lordship being … pleased with you. I didn’t ask what he meant.’

‘And he didn’t say anything else?’

‘I can’t remember. I was excited. He just said you were a good fellow. And loyal. He called you loyal.’

Knox looked around the large, well-appointed room. It was dry, clean and warm – the kind of place in which his mother had always dreamt of living. And it would be a better home for Peter. ‘I’m pleased for you, Mam.’ Knox tried to smile. ‘You deserve something good for a change.’

She gave him another hug and showed him around the rest of the cottage. Afterwards, she prepared a meal of corn, and while he ate, she told him what Matthew had been doing. Matthew was seventeen, only two years older than Peter. Knox had never asked why there had been such an age gap between him and his brothers but suspected it had something to do with their father’s drinking. He had never understood why his mother hadn’t walked out on his father; why she had remained loyal to him even when he vented his anger by striking her with his fists.

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
10.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

B00Y3771OO (R) by Christi Caldwell
The Buried by Brett Battles
Jake Fonko M.I.A. by B. Hesse Pflingger
Miss Foxworth's Fate by Kelly, Sahara
Everyman by Philip Roth
The Fall of Neskaya by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Sea of Aaron by Kymberly Hunt